"99 percent of New York has no clue who the f--- I am!"
At 6 foot 9, Nick van de Wall, the DJ-producer known as Afrojack, is the easiest person to see exiting Soho House in New York's Meatpacking District. But that doesn't mean he's the easiest to identify. Passers-by rubberneck at van de Wall as he loads his latest haul of designer sneakers into a black SUV; several stop and stare. But it takes a nattily dressed Wall Street type to break the ice. "Hey, man. Aren't you a famous DJ?"
AFROJACK: BILLBOARD PHOTO SHOOT
If van de Wall has his way, these semi-anonymous moments soon will be fewer and farther between. An in-demand DJ in his native Holland by the age of 18, he racked up an impressive assortment of global hits during the past few years for his production and songwriting work on Pitbull and Ne-Yo's "Give Me Everything," David Guetta and Sia's "Titanium" and Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now." He parlayed that early success into a lucrative gig as one of the biggest draws on the EDM festival and nightclub circuit, ranking No. 7 on Forbes' list of the highest-earning DJs of 2013 with a reported $36 million in earnings. Now 26, van de Wall is betting big that putting the Afrojack brand front and center with "Forget the World," his debut album (May 19, Def Jam), will help him graduate to the mainstream stardom currently enjoyed by DJ-producer peers like Guetta and Avicii.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of New York has no clue who the f- I am," says van de Wall, seated at Soho House earlier in the day. "When I was growing up, I said to my ex-girlfriend, 'I will not be successful until everyone in Holland knows my name.' And it worked. I won't be successful until everyone on the streets here knows who I am."
Before "Forget the World" even hits, Afrojack certainly has had the red carpet rolled out for his big trip to the mainstream. Last October, he became the first DJ to ring the NASDAQ bell, at the initial public offering of Bob F.X. Sillerman's EDM conglomerate SFX Entertainment. Lead single "Ten Feet Tall," No. 14 on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart dated May 17, debuted in a Super Bowl spot for Bud Light that gave Afrojack a special call-out through a Shazam partnership. The album's campaign kicked off at March's Ultra Festival with a mob of fans outside Miami Beach's G-Star Raw store. (Afrojack has a clothing line with the company.) And on June 27, he'll become the first EDM act to play ABC's "Good Morning America" summer concert series.
Should the album succeed, it would further his two biggest passions: touring and luxury cars. Of the latter, Afrojack has four - a Rolls-Royce Ghost, a Lamborghini Aventador, an Audi RS6 and an Audi Q7. And on the touring front, he's scaling back his commitments from upwards of 25 gigs per month to 20 to focus on headline slots at top-tier festivals and clubs like Las Vegas' Hakkasan. In short, he has rock star ambitions.
"I'm not EDM," he says. "If I wanted to be a successful EDM artist, I wouldn't put 80 percent of everything back into the show. I would be chilling, demanding 20 hotel rooms, playing for one-and-a-half hours and being miserable as f-. But I don't want to be an EDM artist - I want to make something that people can be proud of."
Making such goals attainable is an album that's consciously commercial, containing the type of songs that will be as at home at Electric Daisy Carnival as they would on Z100 New York. The guest lineup betrays his cross-genre designs. Snoop Dogg laces likely second single "Dynamite" with a credible trap-dance swagger, while Wiz Khalifa shows up to ride a bouncy Eurobeat alongside Devin Cruise on "Too Wild." Most surprisingly, Sting shows up on "Catch Tomorrow," sounding remarkably at home singing like Chris Martin on a mountaintop in Ibiza, Spain.
"I want to make an album my grandma and my fans are going to like," says Afrojack. "I want to make my grandma understand a drop and make club fans understand a song."
"Ten Feet Tall" only just cracked the Mainstream Top 40 chart, where it debuts at No. 40, but Afrojack is a high priority for Def Jam, which will make his album the label's first EDM release since it split from sister label Island in April. "The great thing we've seen with previous artists in this ilk is that over time you actually do reach people with great music," says CEO Steve Bartels, who shepherded Avicii's top 40 crossover last fall.
Van de Wall, meanwhile, is just trying to stay on top of his jampacked, time-zone-crossing schedule. He's about to power nap before a gig in Atlantic City, N.J., then board his own private "Afrojet" to play Vegas the next night. He rattles off his itinerary with impressive detail for someone who doesn't have their calendar in front of them - or a personal assistant, for that matter.
"Saturday I fly to Berlin, Saturday night I fly to Cannes, Sunday I take a jet from Cannes to London, take a flight from London to L.A.," he says, ticking invisible Outlook boxes with his fingers. "There's nothing better than making music and hearing 3,000 people chant, 'Afrojack! Afrojack!' People are looking - now it's time for me to kick ass."